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The Challenges of Puberty in Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

"We seem to be having ever increasing difficulty with our 13-year-old daughter (high functioning autistic). We began to notice a change for the worse around the time she reached puberty. Her anger and anxiety have reached a new level. She also seems very very depressed much of the time. Is this normal for a teen with this disorder? What can we do to slow down what I see as a train wreck in the making?"

Puberty brings with it challenges for all children, however, children with ASD level 1 [High-Functioning Autism] face increased challenges through puberty. The behavior issues of impulsivity can increase in both frequency and intensity.

Kids with ASD who experienced bullying in elementary school - and now continue to experience bullying during their middle school years - may become increasingly aggressive. 

Adolescence can become a very difficult time for a child with ASD as peers may no longer be willing to tolerate someone who seems different. Moodiness, depression and anxiety can also develop in adolescence due to hormonal imbalances, resulting in increased separation of the "special needs" teen from his/her peers.

Adolescence is a time when social demands become more complex, and it becomes increasingly important to be able to understand social cues. Children with ASD can be more vulnerable to (a) manipulation by others and (b) peer pressure. They are likely to experience more rejection among their peers. With young people on the autism spectrum, interaction with peers usually creates more anxiety than interaction with younger or older people.

In order to create a few parenting changes that may help your daughter through this difficult time, answer the following:
  • Do any particular situations seem to trigger defiant behavior in your daughter?
  • Has your daughter been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  • Have your daughter's teachers reported similar symptoms?
  • How do you typically discipline your daughter?
  • How have you been handling your daughter's disruptive behavior?
  • How often has she refused to follow through with your rules or requests?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter argued with you or her teachers?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been angry or lost her temper?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been vindictive, or blamed others for her own mistakes?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been touchy or easily annoyed?
  • How would you describe your daughter's home and family life?
  • What are your daughter's symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?

Here are a few parenting strategies that can help:

1. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your daughter, which can trigger or worsen her behavior. Let go of things that you or your daughter did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate. Learn ways to calm yourself, and take time for yourself.

2. Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your daughter. Asking your daughter to help develop that routine can be helpful.

3. Remind yourself that your daughter’s behavior is most likely a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent catastrophe.
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

4. Recognize and praise your daughter's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible (e.g., "I really liked the way you helped pick up your room tonight").

5. Pick your battles carefully. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.

6. Model the behavior you want your daughter to exhibit.

7. Develop a united front. Work with your spouse to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.

8. Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and daughter being together.

9. Assign your daughter a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless she does it. Initially, it's important to set your daughter up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, then gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.

10. At first, your daughter is not likely to be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to her behavior. Setbacks and relapses are normal, so be prepared with a plan to manage those occasions. Behavior often temporarily worsens when new limits and expectations are set. But, with persistence and consistency, the initial hard work will pay off with improved behavior. Also, as she passes though the storms of adolescence, things are likely to improve by default.



•    Anonymous said... Alpha-Stim AID for anxiety. And, it gets better once adult.
•    Anonymous said... Encouraging articles.
•    Anonymous said... I'm having the same problem with my son. He is on a low dose antidepressant and it made such a difference. My happy boy is back.
•    Anonymous said... I've been going through that with my 13 y/o Aspie, too. Wicked anxiety and depression. It really started at about 10 or 11 and peaked for us this year. Luckily, between therapy and regular talks, we're in a better place now. I try not to rush her or stress her out. Her daily routines help calm her so we do our best not to interfere with them.
•    Anonymous said... Jed Baker gave the best explanation of one of the reasons why this happens, they become aware of all the drs, meds, therapies, spec schools etc, that they feel they are broken and unfixable. This happened to my son too. Meds and therapy helped, but Jed Baker also adds that we must increase our praise to help them during these years. I can honestly say doing this has helped our son. Good Luck!
•    Anonymous said... Medication. Risperdal and depakote work great but cause weight gain.
•    Anonymous said... My daughter too is in a major depression, she is on depokote and it is not working, neither did Prozac and another anxiety medicine. Feeling hopeless/helpless over here
•    Anonymous said... my son is 16 and is a nightmare with moods, temper, despite what we do as parents its not enough. he wont chat.!
•    Anonymous said... Totally! Normal! My guys meltdowns increased & aggression. I stuck to my guns with him and haven't used Meds. I've used humour, timeouts & rewards. It's hard but he's trying very hard!
•    Anonymous said... We are in the SAME boat over here!!!
•    Anonymous said... Yes yes yes!!! Totally normal...unfortunately! We got my daughter back into counseling and had a medication change also. Good luck .
•    Anonymous said… She's probably having trouble making/keeping friends and is likely being bullied. This is the age where they become acutely aware that they are different from others. Does she have any hobbies? I would strongly suggest getting her involved with a group of kids with similar interests, social skills groups, etc.
•    Anonymous said… my son has autism and i know is similar to aspergers. He is 17 now and I wish all the parents out there with teenage children with aspergers all the luck in the world through this difficult stage in both yours and their lives xxxx
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is only 10, going through puberty and anxiety is at an all time high!
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is 6 (almost 7) and is showing physical signs of puberty (breast development and armpit hair - along with the odor). She has become increasingly non-compliant in school and becoming more aggressive towards her teachers... At home she's almost a perfect little angel. Of course we have a very strict schedule/routine at home and any change in it has to be explained thoroughly before we get compliance.
•    Anonymous said… I'm 26 and autistic and still can't deal with puberty. It's extremely hard to explain. I just can't accept the physical change in myself or friends I knew before/during it. It's just too different seeing them with facial hair etc. I find it very crippling that my mind makes these natural things so hard to deal with even when they've happened a long time ago.

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

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Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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